Cumulus Reportedly Withholding Severance Checks

It’s Christmastime and information is leaking out of Cumulus Media that is very disturbing to its employees and ex-employees.

It is obvious that there is little to no holiday goodwill at radio’s top three consolidators. They are playing Scrooge and putting coal in the stockings of their overworked and often abused personnel.

Now this.

Cumulus – in a legally questionable move – is allegedly holding back money due employees who are leaving their employ and some accuse their former employer of shutting the door on transparency with regard to their final commission payments.

Here’s the story from an ex-Cumulus salesperson.

“I just quit Cumulus … and have a question, is it legal for them to hold my last paycheck for 90 days? This has happened to several of my friends that have left and I am told that by the end of 90 days they will have found a way to charge me back on all the money”.

So now if Cumulus fires you or if you quit, you may be screwed -- is that it?

Here are the details from an unhappy ex-Cumulus worker:

“I first became aware of this policy when a friend of mine resigned to take a position at a legitimate radio group right after the account movement and commission cut, they held his check for 90 days but paid him his draw and subsequently charged him back on the held dollars.”

I cannot imagine a good radio operator doing this. (See the Best & Worst Radio Groups according to the latest poll here).

Most legitimate operators don’t fool with severance or money due upon separation whether commission or other fees. It’s wrong and even if it is legal it is ethically undesirable.

The big three abusers – Clear Channel, Citadel and Cumulus – have run roughshod over their employees and because they own the majority of stations in desirable markets they are setting the template for other bottom feeders who use them as cover to employ the same tactics.

When you fire someone, you are creating more trouble with the people who remain – a lesson Cumulus has apparently not learned.

Even when that employee deserves to be fired (and that's not the case in downsizing) – the process conjures up fear in the psyche of the surviving employees who worry that there but for the grace of God go I – so to speak.

Listen to what happened to our aggrieved Cumulus ex:

“I secured a position elsewhere and was afraid they would do the same so rode the clock until (a later date) when my check hit the bank, I quit, I am still owed commissions … I have spoke with the comptroller and was told first that they held the final check to make sure that my a/r cleared.

I was next told that one of my clients checks bounced (this is true) and that I would be charged back on that, to which I argued that I had done my job and brought the check in, I called corporate and spoke with HR there and was told that it is up to the individual market comptroller as to how this is handled but that I should have gotten half of my commission and then the other half in 90 days.

The problem is, they are the only ones that can see the lockbox so I have no way of knowing if or when the checks hit. They will not reply to any of my emails, so there is nothing in writing from them. I am going to get an attorney”.

This ex-Cumulus employee and others fear being blackballed.

That would be low.

But somehow you can see them doing it.

In recent months Cumulus has threatened lawsuits against employees who have left for better radio jobs -- at least that's what high executives at competing radio companies who are in the know on this topic tell me.

Cumulus has – according to this ex-employee – played games with the money that is owed them as they go out the door.

That isn’t legal.

Not right.

Not smart.

Many employees from Clear Channel, Citadel and Cumulus are consulting lawyers. You'll see these lawsuits come forward in 2010. That doesn’t mean that all of them will eventually file suit, but some may.

And one will win and set a precedent – or a consolidator will have to pay through the nose to get them to drop their suit (This hits awfully close to home for me, as some of you know, because even The Evil Empire has been known to open the bank vault to make lawsuits go away).

The big story of 2009 in the radio industry isn’t the piss poor job Fagreed Suleman has done at Citadel as it ramps up to prepackaged bankruptcy.


And it’s not the Clear Channel approach to ruining the business – that is, shrink it, turn it into every other investment model that Lee and Bain Capital owns – and wait out the recession hoping to sell the sum of its parts later for a profit.

Oh, and taking a giant write-down in the process.

No, not that.

And the big story of 2009 isn’t the dysfunctional family business known as Cumulus which has Shakespearean tragedy and comedy rolled up in one long, God-awful farce.


The big news of 2009 is the mean-spirited treatment of the very talented radio people who could have saved their bacon in the first place.

Cumulus, Clear Channel and Citadel turned on their own people.

Firings, commission and salary cuts, forced days off with no pay, reduced benefits and perhaps the worst thing of all – heaping one job after another on the surviving employees making it impossible for even hard working loyal employees to do an adequate job.

Are you interested in my take on 2010?

Unfortunately, we’ll see more self-destruction on the part of the big boys, but somewhere during the year the tide will turn. Lawsuits will become public. More bankruptcies or at least more hands tied under the threat of bankruptcy.

Then, something amazing.

A redeployment of radio people to new media as it rolls out – podcasting, webcasting other than repeating terrestrial content, mobile content, businesses built around apps. Then Apple will introduce the media player of the future – its long-awaited tablet – and then even the deaf and blind in our industry will see the future.

And read and re-read this line please: the radio groups will have a hard time hiring people as talented as the ones they have fired.

We’re beginning to see consolidators advertise for local positions with the exact job description of the talents possessed by the very people they have fired.

No one will want to work for them.

It’s beyond whether abused radio people love radio. But they love their families, their futures and heck, themselves more.

One of my readers summed up these boneheaded management practices we've seen so much of in the past two yers:

“Lew might make better decisions if instead of that 'large hard drive in his head', he had a microprocessor. As we all know, a hard drive is just a dumb storage device”.

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